Friday, 20th August 2010
Occupational health services is a cross-disciplinary area concerned with protecting the safety, health and welfare of people engaged in work or employment. The goal of all occupational health services and safety programs is to foster a safe work environment. As a secondary effect, it may also protect co-workers, family members, employers, customers, suppliers, nearby communities, and other members of the public who are impacted by the workplace environment.
The reasons for establishing good occupational health services standards are frequently identified as:
Moral - An employee should not have to risk injury or death at work, nor should others associated with the work environment.
Economic - many governments realize that poor occupational health services and safety performance results in cost to the State (e.g. through social security payments to the incapacitated, costs for medical treatment, and the loss of the "employability" of the worker). Employing organizations also sustain costs in the event of an incident at work (such as legal fees, fines, compensatory damages, investigation time, lost production, lost goodwill from the workforce, from customers and from the wider community).
Legal - Occupational requirements may be reinforced in civil law and/or criminal law; it is accepted that without the extra "encouragement" of potential regulatory action or litigation, many organisations would not act upon their implied moral obligations.
Occupational health services professionals promote health and safety procedures in an organisation. They recognize hazards and measure health and safety risks, set suitable safety controls in place, and give recommendations on avoiding accidents to management and employees in an organisation.
In the European Union, member states have enforcing authorities to ensure that the basic legal requirements relating to occupational health services are met. In many EU countries, there is strong cooperation between employer and worker organisations (e.g. Unions) to ensure good occupational health services performance as it is recognized this has benefits for both the worker (through maintenance of health) and the enterprise (through improved productivity and quality). In 1996 the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work was founded.
Member states of the European Union have all transposed into their national legislation a series of directives that establish minimum standards on occupational health services. These directives (of which there are about 20 on a variety of topics) follow a similar structure requiring the employer to assess the workplace risks and put in place preventive measures based on a hierarchy of control. This hierarchy starts with elimination of the hazard and ends with personal protective equipment.
In the UK, health and safety legislation is drawn up and enforced by the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities (the local council) under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. Increasingly in the UK the regulatory trend is away from prescriptive rules, and towards risk assessment. Recent major changes to the laws governing asbestos and fire safety management embrace the concept of risk assessment. All occupational health services professional have a working knowledge of this legislation.
Part of a occupational health services professional is hazzard and risk assessment.
The terminology used in occupational health services varies, but generally speaking:
* A hazard is something that can cause harm if not controlled.
* The outcome is the harm that results from an uncontrolled hazard.
* A risk is a combination of the probability that a particular outcome will occur and the severity of the harm involved.
"Hazard", "risk", and "outcome" are used in other fields to describe e.g. environmental damage, or damage to equipment. However, in the context of occupational health services, "harm" generally describes the direct or indirect degradation, temporary or permanent, of the physical, mental, or social well-being of workers. For example, repetitively carrying out manual handling of heavy objects is a hazard. The outcome could be a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) or an acute back or joint injury. The risk can be expressed numerically (e.g. a 0.5 or 50/50 chance of the outcome occurring during a year), in relative terms (e.g. "high/medium/low"), or with a multi-dimensional classification scheme (e.g. situation-specific risks).
Occupational health services have come a long way from its beginnings in the heavy industry sector. It now has an impact on every worker, in every work place, and those charged with managing health and safety are having more and more tasks added to their portfolio. The most significant responsibility is environmental protection. The skills required to manage occupational health and safety are compatible with environmental protection, which is why these responsibilities are so often bolted onto the workplace occupational health services and safety professional.